Ocasio-Cortez, Ted Cruz join colleagues blasting NBA for ‘outrageous’ response to China

A bipartisan group of eight lawmakers fiercely criticized the NBA in a Wednesday letter to commissioner Adam Silver, demanding the league scale back its operations in China and take a stronger stand against Chinese government pressure.

The ideologically diverse coalition of lawmakers — including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — blasted Silver for the NBA’s initial response to China after the Houston Rockets’ general manager expressed support for demonstrators in Hong Kong.

{mosads}“It is outrageous that the Chinese Communist Party is using its economic power to suppress the speech of Americans inside the United States,” wrote the lawmakers. “It is also outrageous that the NBA has caved to Chinese government demands for contrition.”

Joining Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez on the letter were Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowksi (N.J.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Republican Reps. Mike Gallagher (Wis.) and Jim Banks (Ind.), and GOP Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), and Ben Sasse (Neb.).

The bipartisan letter marks the latest escalation in congressional backlash to the NBA’s handling of a controversy involving a now-deleted tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Morey on Friday tweeted, then deleted a picture declaring “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” The tweet drew an immediate condemnation from the Chinese government, while several Chinese businesses and media outlets cut ties or blacklisted the organization.

The NBA initially responded with a widely-panned Monday statement expressing its regrets to offended Chinese fans, and spurred even more U.S. anger with a stronger statement in Mandarin condemning Morey.

Democrats and Republicans alike have accused the NBA and Silver for prioritizing the league’s lucrative presence in China over human rights and free speech.

The lawmakers wrote that the NBA’s response “not only sold out an American citizen,” but also “reinforces the Chinese Communist Party view that those who point to Chinese repression in Hong Kong are as best stating opinions, not facts.”

“Hundreds of millions of people within China will read your statements as an admission that their government’s propaganda is correct,” the lawmakers continued.  “That you have more potential fans in China than in Hong Kong is no excuse for bending over backwards to express ‘sensitivity’ only to one side.”

While Silver on Tuesday pledged to defend the freedom of expression for all NBA players and personnel, the statement did little to appease the NBA’s critics in Washington and Beijing.

The Chinese government canceled an NBA fan event, along with a media availability with players on the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers, who are scheduled to play games in Shenzhen and Shanghai this week.

China has also canceled the broadcast of all NBA games, stripped promotional ads for the Nets-Lakers games, and threatened the league with starker penalties for criticizing the Chinese government.

“We voice our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to Adam Silver offering as an excuse the right to freedom of expression,” said state-run China Central Television in a statement.

“We believe that no comments challenging national sovereignty and social stability fall within the scope of freedom of expression.”

A fan was also ejected from a Tuesday game in Philadelphia between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Chinese Basketball Association’s Guangzhou Loong Lions for shouting “Free Hong Kong” from the stands.

Several U.S. politicians have also criticized the NBA’s decision to yield to China despite the league’s support for players and coaches who have spoken out against racial disparities within the criminal justice system, LGBTQ rights and other political issues.

The lawmakers urged Silver on Wednesday to make an explicit statement supporting the rights of NBA employees and fans “to express their opinions no matter the economic consequences,” and urging China to respect the league’s commitment to free speech.

They also asked the NBA to suspend all activities in China until the country’s government and businesses reverse their boycott, and reconsider the location of a training camp in the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has conducted mass oppression and of more than 1 million Uyghur Muslims.

“NBA players have a rich history of speaking out on sensitive topics of social justice and human rights inside the United States, and the NBA takes pride in defending their right to do so,” wrote the lawmakers Wednesday.

“Yet while it easy to defend freedom of speech when it costs you nothing, equivocating when profits are at stake is a betrayal of fundamental American values.” 

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Ben Sasse Mike Gallagher Ron Wyden Ted Cruz Tom Cotton

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